by Alex Palmer | May 20, 2019

Strategic meetings management has become a more central part of an organization's operations - serving goals well beyond simple cost-cutting. That was one of the themes of the BTN Group's 5th Strategic Meetings Summit, which brought together corporate travel managers, executives and other meetings decision-makers for the all-day event at Convene at One Liberty Plaza in downtown Manhattan.

Hosted by the BTN Group, part of Northstar Travel Group (M&C's parent company), the event explored the evolution of strategic meetings management -- a companywide approach to streamlining meetings and events (and all of their associated processes, vendors and data) -- and the practical issues that organizations are facing in implementing it. Attendees emphasized the expanding role of SMM within their organizations and the promise of new technology tools in helping enhance these efforts.

The gathering was kicked off by Kevin Iwamoto, senior vice-president of GoldSpring Consulting, and Kari Wendel, vice president of global SMM strategy and solutions for CWT Meetings & Events. Both pioneers of SMM, they described their early development of it as a discipline, defining and setting out a roadmap for wrangling the various pieces of meetings planning and sourcing into a cohesive strategic meetings management program. While one of the major advantages of SMM is the consistency it offers across an enterprise, the speakers stressed the importance of flexibility when applying SMM principles to an organization.

"SMM was always geared toward being a work in progress," said Iwamoto. "It was always meant to be flexible, scalable according to what happens in the industry -- and this industry is not static."

Wendel urged organizations to develop a unique identity to their SMM program and promote it internally in a way that fits their particular corporate culture. "The brand is important," she  said. "It gives it a life of its own and creates a community-like feeling."

This flexible approach was driven home throughout the next session -- a panel of SMM practitioners who discussed their programs, priorities and future plans. Shannon Wayt Sessoms, associate director, U.S. regions meeting leader, meeting and event services for EY, explained the advantages of using bots to take over tedious tasks such as cross-checking attendee and travel lists. Her organization's program has created across-the-board efficiencies, saving thousands of human hours and the spending associated with them. 

Carolyn Pund, global events, strategic meetings management, for Cisco Systems, emphasized the value of data in strategic meetings planning, but that it must be distilled into actionable and simple takeaways if it's to be of interest to the sales and marketing or engineering departments and other parts of the organization. "We have more data than anybody wants to look at," she said. "I'll send dashboards out of what we have, and they say, 'can you just come up with a couple bullet points that you want them to know?'"

Pund also noted how her organization's SMM team is not part of the travel department, but housed under sales and marketing. She explained that it made more sense for the meetings management team to operate under this part of the company, considering it has the greatest spend as well as the greatest volume of compliance issues to navigate -- shifting the focus of meetings and event planning away from a pure cost-cutting purpose.

Erin Stahowiak, project manager, meetings and events, for McDonald's, talked about how their internal SMM operation, McDonald's Meetings Management (M3), grew out of a company reorganization in 2016 as travel and then corporate cards were brought together, applying SMM practices to all these efforts. More recently, the creative services team was brought into the same group, creating Agency 123.

"Calling it an 'agency' made sense because we're now a creative agency, a meetings agency and a travel agency," said Stahowiak. "It was three disparate teams coming together, moving into business services and saying, 'how do we bring value to the organization when people are looking for information really quickly?'"

Tech Solutions Available for Strategic Meetings Management

The event included an Enterprise Meeting Tools forum in which executives representing four SMM enterprise solutions -- Aventri, Cvent, Meeting Evolution and Lenos Software -- presented their products, and four corporate meetings-buyer executives got the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns about each product.

Anna Dvorakkova, key account manager for Slido, then offered several best practices for effective meetings:

  • Leverage polls to check understanding
  • Facilitate continuous Q&A
  • Create peer discussions

Attendees used the Slido app to vote for which topic they wanted to discuss. The winning topic --"If your company has a decentralized M&E function with multiple teams, how have you found success in collaborating and servicing the company?" -- took the top spot. Attendees shared their experiences in trying to manage this decentralization. 

One attendee described the recent launch of her organization's SMM efforts and the importance of making event planners feel part of the corporate team through an advisory board, newsletter and other tactics. Another emphasized the value of digital content and educational resources that can be shared throughout the organization, serving more as a "resource center" rather than meetings. Making information like preferred vendors and payment solutions available to the entire organization was another point raised.